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Cannabis Conviction Pardons Praised in Maryland

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Advocates and organizations praise the recent wave of 175,000 pardons by Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, showing the importance of helping those with current cannabis convictions on their records.

Baltimore, Maryland-native Shiloh Jordan was originally pulled over by law enforcement for not wearing a seatbelt, according to an interview conducted by The Associated Press. The officer said that she smelled cannabis in his vehicle and used a piece of tape to discover “cannabis crumbs” on the floor. Jordan believes that she had picked up less than a gram in crumbs. “She was just like, ‘Yep, you’re going to jail,’” Jordan recalled. “I’m like what? Are you serious? At the time I did feel like, you know, it was just a petty weed charge. I’m like man, whatever, it’s a little petty weed charge. And then, like I said, just later on it was affecting me when I applied for a job.”

Later on, Jordan got a new job to start fresh, but they let him go due to conducting a background check and having a misdemeanor conviction on his record. “I felt defeated. I felt upset a little bit, you know.” Jordan said. “I was disheartened because, like I said, for the last couple months I did not have a job so… I was just trying to, you know, do the right thing.”

He persevered and took part in a job readiness program which led him to go back to school and play football in college. Now he works with the Baltimore-based Center for Urban Families, a nonprofit organization that assists local families.

Although Jordan was able to pave his own path, and became one of the 175,000 recently pardoned Marylanders will help so many people who are currently struggling. “I just feel like this is a big opportunity for people, you know, to not let struggles get in their way,” Jordan explained.

Moore issued the pardons on June 17, stating that this was a necessary decision to help thousands of people get back on track and to right the wrongs from the War on Drugs. “This is about changing how both government and society view those who have been walled off from opportunity because of broken and uneven policies,” Moore said. “Legalization does not turn back the clock on decades of harm that was caused by this war on drugs. It doesn’t erase the fact that Black Marylanders were three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis than white Marylanders before legalization. It doesn’t erase the fact that having a conviction on your record means a harder time with everything, everything, from housing, to employment to education.”

Jordan stood with Moore at a news conference on June 17 when the pardons were issued. “It means a lot, because I know a lot of people that have been convicted for petty cannabis charges, and it really affected their whole way of life and their whole way of thinking,” Jordan said.

Although the pardons are welcome, they are not the same as expungements. If a person seeks to have their record expunged, they need to do so in court so that their record is clear. The Associated Press stated that Xavier Conaway, Circuit Court for Baltimore City, said that they are committed to offering services that allow people to pursue expungement. “Our office is committed and ready to provide all necessary assistance to ensure that pardoned individuals in Baltimore City can navigate the expungement process smoothly and efficiently,” Conaway said. They added that the governor’s action “acknowledges the importance of the fair administration of justice in removing educational, housing, and employment barriers that have long disproportionately affected the lives of many Baltimoreans.”

Baltimore is the most highly populated city in Maryland, and an estimated 39,865 of the 175,000 pardons are for people residing in that area.

Praises were issued across the board from a variety of advocates and organizations. Maryland Legal Aid chief legal and advocacy director, Somil Trivedi, called the move a “gargantuan step” to right the wrongs caused by the War on Drugs. “It’s also, meaningfully, a recognition of that past and a way to move forward,” Trivedi said.

The editorial board of The Washington Post wrote an op-ed about the pardons, calling it “a model for the country.” “Marijuana consumption shouldn’t be celebrated; recent health studies suggest it should be discouraged,” the news outlet wrote. “But neither should it be harshly punished by the criminal justice system. It, much like other harmful but legal and regulated substances such as alcohol and tobacco, it simply doesn’t do enough damage to merit upending lives over simple possession. Mr. Moore has recognized this, and so have executives in nine other states and multiple cities. More should follow suit.”

The Last Prisoner Project (LPP) also released a statement about Maryland’s pardons. “It has been nearly a year since Maryland passed full cannabis legalization, and at the same time that some are poised to profit off of this burgeoning industry, millions more remain burdened by the collateral consequences of a cannabis conviction,” LPP wrote.  “LPP is proud to be part of today’s historic announcement which is a crucial step in beginning to right the wrongs of our failed approach to cannabis policy.”

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